In past years, San Jose Sharks’ General Manager Doug Wilson has gone into many an offseason on the hot seat, facing mounting criticism and pressure to rebuild the roster.
Disappointing early playoff exits will do that to you. Year after year, the futures of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau seemingly hung in the balance, as did the job security of the head coach, whether it be Ron Wilson or Todd McLellan. And year after year, Wilson remained on the job, making a few tweaks here and there, but no wholesale changes. Through the criticism, Thornton and Marleau remained, the core stayed the same, and there was never a true “rebuild” in the sense that the Sharks had given up on pieces they had assembled.
Those critiques were well-deserved, given the franchise’s continued struggle to meet playoff expectations. But what happens this offseason, where the Sharks are coming off their best season in history, but still ended one game short?
Keep the Band Together
Clearly, the Sharks have — and had, as it turns out — a roster fully capable of making a run to the Stanley Cup Final. Thornton and Marleau may be winding down their respective careers, but they shouldn’t go anywhere, at least not next season. Neither will the rest of the core.
Wilson did admit in a conference call earlier this week that players acquired mid-season won’t be re-signed, meaning Roman Polak, Nick Spaling, Dainius Zubrus and James Reimer likely won’t be back next season. That leaves the Sharks short at least one defenseman, two forwards and a backup goaltender.
#SJSharks fans rightly point out Roman Polak struggled in the final, but he helped particularly in series wins over Kings, Blues
— Kevin Kurz (@KKurzNHL) June 30, 2016
Still, that isn’t a whole lot. Polak looked overmatched in critical times against the Penguins. Spaling and Zubrus are checking-line forwards, and the Sharks can find another backup for Final Jones. They can either turn to the youth in their organization or look at the free agent market, but I wouldn’t worry about their ability to fill the holes vacated by the departed players.
Bringing Back Hertl a Smart Move
What’s important is that the Sharks keep the core pieces that were so crucial to their deep playoff run and build off them, especially the younger players. They got off to a good start on Wednesday when they re-signed restricted free agent Tomas Hertl to a two-year deal worth $6 million. Hertl had his best NHL season last year when he scored 21 goals, bouncing back from a dip in his sophomore campaign. At just 22 years of age, Hertl has the skill set and potential to be a breakout star and provides the necessary proof that the Sharks are most than just a veteran team that missed its lone shot at a championship.
While the hockey world went crazy on Wednesday with a flurry to free agency and trade activity, the Sharks need to do no such thing. The players who led this team to its first Stanley Cup appearance deserve the right to have another shot, this time to win it, and the up-and-coming players such as Hertl, Melker Karlsson and Chris Tierney deserve an opportunity to showcase their abilities as they did all postseason long.
For the first time in a long time, Wilson can head into the offseason with a clear mind and full job security, and so can his head coach. It’s been forever since the fanbase wasn’t advocating for a shake-up of the roster or a change of leadership. The Sharks can feel good knowing that — for once — they can stay quiet in the offseason and come back with a team more than qualified to win a championship.
Eric is a journalism student at the University of Southern California and a sports editor at the Daily Trojan. He grew up in the Bay Area and has followed the Sharks since a young age. He served as a beat writer on the team for SFBay.ca during the 2014-2015 season. Previously, Eric has worked at FanSided and Bleacher Report.